ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Mitch Seavey was the first musher to reach Ruby in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race but some of the fanfare was missing Friday.
Ruby is the first checkpoint on the Yukon River. For being the First to the Yukon, the race’s leader has traditionally been treated to a feast prepared by a chef flown in 300 miles from Anchorage.
The menu in previous years has included bison stew, grilled halibut in citrus sauce and blackberry jubilee.
But the Anchorage hotel sponsoring the feast dropped out this year, race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said, leaving Seavey to simply heat up a prepared meal in a microwave in the log cabin community hall.
Even if Seavey couldn’t fill his stomach with some gourmet food, he was able to stuff his wallet.
Musher and Anchorage funeral director Scott Janssen, 50, known as The Mushing Mortician, donated the $3,000 prize given to the first musher to Ruby, and the money was presented to Seavey in a small ceremony at the checkpoint after he arrived at 6 a.m. Alaska time.
“Scott Janssen was kind enough to step up to the plate to make sure there was still that $3,000 award,” McLarnon said.
Janssen made another mark in this year’s race on Wednesday when he gave his dog Marshall mouth-to-snout resuscitation after the dog collapsed while the team was going down a decline in the Dalzell Gorge.
“I had my mouth over his nose, breathing into his nose as I was compressing and rubbing his chest, trying to work the air out,” Janssen told the Anchorage Daily News. Marshall recovered and was flown back to Anchorage.
Seavey was followed into Ruby on Friday by his son, 25-year-old Dallas Seavey, about 67 minutes later.
“I got a really fine team here. I’m going to win, that’s all there is to it,” a confident Mitch Seavey said before the race. “I wouldn’t expect to go for less than that.”
Part of his optimism is because of his strong dog team.
“I’m super excited about what I have to drive, and their preparation, their health, their weight. They’re eating super well, I couldn’t ask for more,” he said.
While Mitch Seavey pocketed some extra cash for being the first into Ruby, he wasn’t the first to leave.
Aliy Zirkle, 41, a native of New Hampshire, hit the Ruby checkpoint nearly three hours after Seavey but she stayed only 9 minutes and was charging for Galena.
Both Seaveys were taking a rest break in Ruby. Also into the checkpoint were defending champion John Baker, Aaron Burmeister, four-time champion Jeff King and DeeDee Jonrowe.
The Yukon River portion of the nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod is dreaded by many mushers because of its long, boring stretches of nothingness. Mushers have been known to be so sleep-deprived that they simply fall off their sleds.